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A dynamic language
The Hebrew language works different from ours. That makes it very
difficult to translate, and that causes translations to be often poor
and lacking. One of the differences is that the Hebrew language is much
more dynamic than ours. Hebrew is all about action. Something is
reckoned after what it does, not after how it looks. This principle is
quite fundamental in Scriptures; it is applied all over. Probably most
drastic in the Second Commandment where the Lord prohibits the making of
graven images. A graven image after all does not move, and a statue
that, for instance, tries to display a calf is not showing typical
calf-behavior but static appearance.
The principle even occurs in the New Testament, which is
written in Greek but with a Hebrew way of thinking. The second chapter
of James, for instance, explains that a believer is not someone who
looks like one, or even says she’s one, but rather someone who acts
like one. To be is to do.
Hold that thought (15)
In Hebrew Scriptures, and all models derived thereof,
entities are reckoned solely after their behavior and not after their
An entity is a behavior, not that which executes the
It is crucial that the reader takes a firm hold of this
principle. If a modern Westerner would see a picture of a lion, she
would say, “That is a lion.”
If an ancient Hebrew would see someone gather and devour
food, she would say, “That is a lion.”
Imagine: you’re on a farm. In a field ahead you notice a
cow, a horse, and overhead flies a swallow. Question: of the horse, the
cow and the swallow, which two are most alike?
In our modern, Western way of thinking we are prone to
define something after the way it looks. Both horse and cow are large
mammals and are more alike than a cow and a swallow or a horse and a
swallow. Our answer: the cow and the horse are most alike.
But a Hebrew minds looks at activity, not appearance. And
it’s when these animals begin to move around that their characteristics
show. Cows graze or lay down and chew the cud. Horses however can be
seen racing along the hills, in tight packs or alone. Horses are swift,
may turn abruptly, shear the meadows like… swallows in flight.
The Hebrew verb sus means to be swift or to flash
by, and the noun derived from this verb indicates both the horse and the
swallow. A swallow would probably be known as something like ‘one who
is swift and flies with wings’. A horse would probably be deemed ‘one
who is swift and strong and vigorous.’
For the next paragraph it is important that we understand
that in Biblical times a horse was not seen as a giddy cousin of the
cow, but rather as a big, strong version of a swallow.